'Urgent' rapid tenders not for extra tests

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  • Scott Morrison
    30th Prime Minister of Australia
  • Anthony Albanese
    Australian politician

Urgent government tenders worth more than $60 million for rapid antigen tests won't add any more to the national stockpile.

The government placed five urgent tenders for the COVID-19 tests on Monday, citing "extreme urgency or events unforeseen".

While the tenders will see more than 70 million rapid tests purchased, they will not be added to the more than 200 million rapid tests the government said would arrive in the country in coming weeks.

"This is not a tender for further RATs," a federal health department spokesman told AAP.

"As per the COVID procurement rules, these contracts were issued as "urgent and unavoidable" following a limited tender process.

"Each proposal was independently assessed against consistent criteria before the departmental delegate made the decision to procure the tests."

As COVID-19 cases surge across the country, there have been large shortages of rapid antigen tests, which has put pressure on PCR testing clinics.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said Prime Minister Scott Morrison should have listened to health experts and planned for the current virus outbreak.

"The national plan made it clear that once we opened up there would be an increased number of infections and we needed to make sure we planned for it," he told the ABC.

"The prime minister doesn't have to be Nostradamus here, he just needs to have listened to the health experts and acted."

Bodies such as the Australian Medical Association called for the government to acquire large numbers of rapid tests back in September

"This was foreseen. People knew as part of the national plan that we would face increased number of infections and therefore increased pressure," Mr Albanese said.

"We needed Scott Morrison to do his job but he just went through saying, 'we will all be together at Christmas it will all be right', without putting in place mechanisms required."

The prime minister is meeting with state and territory leaders for the latest national cabinet meeting on Thursday.

National cabinet is set to agree upon a time frame for when concession card holders would be able to access free rapid antigen tests from pharmacies.

Concession holders would be eligible for 10 free rapid tests during a three-month period, with arrangements already finalised with pharmacies.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions again called for RATs to be free and easily accessible ahead of the meeting.

ACTU Secretary Sally McManus said the first priority was keeping workers safe as leaders discuss adding more industries and workers to the list of close contacts exempt from quarantine requirements.

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